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Saturday, 27 March 2010


Harakiri necklace -

I would rather have a serial killer in my apartment than a rat. I know this is sheer pathology but I have a crippling phobia of the creatures. I love mice, guinea pigs and all other rodents. But rats petrify me. When I was living in Manhattan, I would walk an unnecessary six blocks each night to get to my Tudor City apartment after the guards outside the UN demanded that I cross  a block-long stretch of dark park instead of the well-lit middle of the street near the UN gate. For years, I would circumvent all trash bags, walking into traffic instead of risk hearing the sound of scurrying. After a friend told me that a rat ran out of her refrigerator in Chinatown, I bought only food that I could keep a watch over on the counter. I even started mistrusting squirrels after developing a theory that they were just rats wearing day-time disguises. And, like a true paranoid, I love to tickle my terror and read obsessively about rats. I scavanged 1984, American Psycho and Robert Sullivan's excellent "Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" for images and facts to feed my fear. I learned that rats have collapsible spines and can slip into tiny spaces. So, I spent many sleepless nights waiting for the rats to creep like vapor under my door then chew through my throat and eat my organs. 

Now I want nothing more than to wear one around my neck - close to my heart.


Mireille Boucher, the designer of Harakiri jewelry, is enabling me to shake this albatross and replace it with one of her magnificent rodent skull pendants. I first learned of her line from our mutual friend Jen Gilpin, of Berlin's 'Don't Shoot the Messangers,' when I was researching a trend story on designers inspired by dentistry for The Moment. Boucher's work didn't exactly fit that piece, but definitely has bite. I was hooked.

The Montreal-based designer casts animal bones in silver or gold. The simplicity of Boucher's pieces, often a silver-cast bird skull, single bone on a chain or rat skull, can appear unformed from certain angles and unnervingly precise from others, which renders them poignant, private and elegant. The refined aesthetic of her work demonstrates her desire to respectfully confront death and gain mastery over her relationship with her own mortality.


"Harakiri is the ultimate symbol of calm and control," Boucher tells me over coffee during Montreal Fashion Week, where she has taken a break from her usual role as accessories designer for Denis Gagnon, Quebec's leading conceptual designer. "Although most people think the practice is from Japan,  its true origins are in a Chinese warrior tradition where it was understood that the honesty of one's soul came from the gut. When you commit Harakiri, you show your guts to the world. You die honestly by opening your belly."

Harakiri suits Boucher, whose own gut instincts lead her to select both the name and her career path. "I only learned the history of Harakiri after the word already meant a lot to me," she says. "The name came to me long before I had any reason to relate to it. I was fourteen and listening to Nina Hagen's 'Atomic Flash Deluxe' where she sings 'Kala hara hara hara kiri kiri kiri hara. Hara hara hara kiri". For some reason, I thought 'when I have a company, I will name it that.' But I didn't have a company. I was fourteen. I had no idea what kind of company I wanted or anything. But I knew it would be named 'Harakiri.'

Despite the operatic drama of her dream company's moniker, Boucher intially followed her parents'  typically parental advice and enrolled in a program for fashion administration. This flirtation with bureaucracy did not last and she left for a few years of bartending and partying. When she enrolled in a jewellery-making course on a lark, she felt lost and exhausted. But automatically her guts kicked in during the first class. She reconnected to her creative instincts and started designing little flashes of lightening, stars and daggers. "I named the label Harakiri when I was still designing flowers," she says with amusement.


When Boucher's uncle, whom she describes as "a bit of a crazy horder" passed away, she inherited his overwhelming collection of random objects. Among the junk, she discovered a box of antique crosses and religious items from the eighteenth-century onwards. Boucher was not raised in an especially religious household. Her main memory of church was when she fainted in the pews after riding her bike to mass with a raging fever. She never returned to services and her parents never pressured her. But Montreal is a strikingly observant city and Boucher was aware that the iconography was loaded. She decided to cast the crosses as earrings and pendents. Although Madonna and countless catwalks had made the crucifix a relatively banal fashion symbol in many cosmopolitan cities, its use as an accessory was still controversial in Canada where "people thought it was weird, intense and a little evil," she says with a snear. "I was constantly asked whether I felt guilty." She didn't.


Although her imagery is no longer overtly religious, it still contains an uncanny spirituality. "I often hear that my pieces have a strange power over people," Boucher confides. "I have actually had people tell me that their sex lives improved, or became wilder, after they started wearing my work. But some people can not handle it. A woman bought one of my pieces from Reborn, but she returned it shortly afterwards. She claimed that it was making her jumpy and paranoid. It frightened her. But the very next day the same item was bought by a different woman. It turned out that the second owner was the best friend of the first. They had never talked about my work or its power. The second lady loved it. She kept it."

my bird skull necklace

As for me, I am either an atheist or a lazy agnostic. The Coen Brother's 'A Serious Man' is the closest thing I've encountered to an articulation of my relationship to Truth, God or the God question. My entire understanding of the world can be summed up in the character Clive's statement "Mere surmise, Sir. Very uncertain."

So...I am far from being at one with mystical objects. Despite my sense of profound kinship with Larry Gopnik, I also felt an instantaneous and powerful bond with the bird's skull necklace that Boucher gave me during Montreal Fashion week. The moment that I put the precious thing on my neck, I had a strange super-keen awareness of its presence. I feel bizarrely protective of it. My feeling of intimacy with this object is uncanny. On the flight back to Berlin, I kept moving it inside and out of my shirt. I was always hyper-conscious of its closeness to me regardless of whether it was exposed or against my skin. Once home, I flinched when friends touched it (and everyone is drawn to it). The only person that I let play with it is Maxime Ballesteros, Jen's wonderful boyfriend, who has a Boucher bird of his own. We made a date for our necklaces to make-out. Otherwise, I have not removed it since she gave it to me or allowed anyone else to fiddle with it. It is my little familiar. I love it. 

Now I am waiting by my mailbox for my rat skull. Maybe I simply hope that the living, squeaking, scurrying, disease-bringing, sinister, little monsters will see it and stay far away.

Or maybe...just maybe... I will discover a love for rats hidden deep in my gut.

Posted by Ana Finel at 03:41 AM | Permalink


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